"Vivid" telepresence -- holograms, immersive gaming, new collaboration services and even 3D pornography -- could be the next big thing as gigabit-per-second broadband service spreads across the U.S.
Enhanced telepresence and detailed virtual worlds were two of the main themes that emerged when the Pew Research Center asked more than 1,400 Internet experts and prognosticators about the possible benefits of a widely available gigabit Internet. Survey results were released Thursday.
The most common theme in the nonscientific survey is that "this level of bandwidth and connectivity will change basic human interactions," said Lee Rainie, Pew's director of Internet, science and technology research. "It'll change the idea of being together, what community can be."
Increased bandwidth will allow online interactions to feel more real than they are now, Rainie said. A worry for some survey respondents was that these vivid virtual interactions will cause a growing number of Internet users to believe their online interactions are "better than real life," he said.
Holodecks, from the old "Star Trek" series, may become a reality with gigabit Internet connections, Kathryn Campbell, a partner with interactive marketing firm Primitive Spark, wrote in her survey response. "Games, films, shopping for cars and vacations, and (of course) porn will all become immersive 3D experiences," she wrote. "So will the 2025 version of that primitive tool that we call Skype today."
Eighty-six percent of the people responding to the Pew questionnaire said they believe that bandwidth increases in the U.S. over the next 10 years will lead to major new applications.
Many of the experts responding said they can't predict what new applications will ride on a super-fast Internet, but they believe cool new applications will emerge, Rainie said.
"It's sort of a 'Field of Dreams' aspiration here," he said. "They're not entirely clear what the killer apps might be, but there's a very palpable sense in these answers that if it's built, people will come to it, and the applications will find their way into this world."
Rainie and a panel of experts reacting to the survey managed to avoid talking about 3D porn during a Thursday event cohosted by the Internet Innovation Alliance, a broadband advocacy group.
The panel instead talked about how gigabit speeds could finally bring the disruptive force of the Internet to education and health care. The Internet has disrupted many industries, including publishing and music distribution, but some survey respondents were disappointed that health care and education have lagged behind, Rainie said.
Widely available gigabit speeds will allow a market for wearable health monitors and chronic disease management apps to take off, said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a resident fellow at conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute. Faster speeds could enable a lot of health-monitoring tools that warn people "when they're tipping over" into unhealthy behaviors, he said.
Larry Irving, co-chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance, asked if people will want to use those health-monitoring tools. In some cases, health care companies will offer people monetary or other incentives for using the tools, Gottlieb said.
"I'm 100 percent sure" the health-monitoring tools will be adopted, added Morgan Reed, executive director of ACT, a trade group focused largely on app makers. "It's for a great reason -- guilt."
Aging parents who have resisted checking into long-term care facilities will see their children push the health-monitoring tools on them, he said.
Reed, however, predicted that many of the new tools that spring from gigabit speeds will fill more basic human needs. Many of the predictions from the Pew survey seemed to focus on lofty technology goals, but many people will still use the Internet to shop and chat with each other 10 years from now, he said.
"Ask yourself, how does the human interact in this space?" he said. "How does the gigabit Internet lead to us eating, shopping, talking and having human companionship? I promise you, those will be the driving factors."
Some survey respondents voiced concerns about new tools driven by faster broadband. One of the main worries was about a potential growing digital divide, as fast broadband comes to more affluent areas faster than it does to poor areas.
Aaron Saunders, CEO of mobile app developer Clearly Innovative, said his son has friends in the Washington, D.C., school system who live in homes without a wired Internet connection or a smartphone. He's seen the same problems in other cities, he said.
"This concept that everybody has Internet at home is honestly flawed," Saunders said. "Why do we think that with this more powerful, greater Internet, that suddenly everyone will get it?"